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David CarterGareth Morgan

Minister mouthpiece for dirty dairy

David Carter

Federated Farmers’ onslaught on Horizons has been aided and abetted by David Carter, Minister for Primary Industries – Photo NZ National Party

Horizons Regional Council in the central North Island has done what all regional councils should do. It has taken its responsibilities to the public as outlined in the Resource Management Act seriously. Horizons came up with a plan which will reduce the damage to the environment caused by farming, horticulture and power generation.

Horizon’s ‘One Plan’ proposes to do this by giving the council more oversight over activities that pose environmental risks, for example, requiring consents for activities such as cultivating steep land and imposing upper limits on how much nitrogen is allowed to leach into the waterways as a result of farm activities.

The public will benefit from this plan because it will stabilise water quality in the least damaged rivers, lakes and estuaries and bring the worse affected – such as Lake Horowhenua and the Kaitoke lakes – up to an acceptable level in time. That means the region’s water ways will be more able to sustain wildlife and be safer to use for recreation than they are at present. That some of the waterways in the Horizons region are currently in an appalling state is widely known.

What is astonishing and truly sobering about the Horizons case is the new low it has set for the willingness of Cabinet Ministers to use their position to further the interests of businesses at the expense of the public and to hell with the environment

Not surprisingly Horizons has had to endure an intense shelling from the businesses that will have to alter their practices. In the face of livestock and horticultural farmer opposition, the second version of One Plan that emerged after consideration by commissioners was much watered down from what the council had originally announced. Unsurprisingly the Council was taken to the Environment Court by Fish and Game and the Department of Conservation and forced to defend the charge that One Plan Version 2 was too slack.

Fish and Game, and the Department of Conservation won, the court requiring that in order for consistency with the RMA to be maintained, the final version of One Plan has to be remedied to reinstate the stricter provisions and broader coverage (including the requirement that intensive sheep & beef farming and vegetable growing are activities needing to comply). The persistent complainants who railed even against the diluted version, notably Federated Farmers lost a lot of ground at the Environment Court. They’d clearly not done their homework.

The rights and wrongs of this case couldn’t be clearer. Farmers who rely on irrigation to support sheep and beef, who grow crops or vegetables, or practice dairy farming with industrial intensity, all have the potential to impart an adverse impact on the environment. Yet they bear few if any of the costs of this. They reap private benefit from their activity but pay very little to cover the environmental damage they cause, some of it irreversible the rest requiring clean-up which the general public has to pay for. The natural injustice in this is a no-brainer.

It’s is a standard economics problem and the solution lies in regulation. Horizons Council was supported by the Department of Conservation and both are on the ball in proposing to use regulation to bring about behavioural changes that will reduce the adverse environmental impacts of intensive land use.
The myopia of self-interest of course conveniently blinds the polluter to the rights of others. These persistent opponents of any sanction are now appealing the Environment Court decision in the High Court, convinced they can prove the illegality of One Plan. There’s a lot at stake here.

Horizons is not the only council to take a serious stand against environmental damage caused by farming and horticulture practices. Success for it in the courts will confirm the precedent set by Waikato Regional Council with its nutrient cap and trade scheme around Lake Taupo. The nationwide pushback against unsustainable farming practices, especially dealing to the consequences of ever-rising stocking rates is long overdue.

What is astonishing and truly sobering about the Horizons case is the new low it has set for the willingness of Cabinet Ministers to use their position to further the interests of businesses at the expense of the public and to hell with the environment. Federated Farmers’ onslaught on Horizons has been aided and abetted by David Carter, Minister for Primary Industries. As a Cabinet Minister one might think Carter would represent the wider public interest, rather than just the farming lobby. However he has set out to undermine public acceptance of One Plan, claiming that it will “dramatically reduce” the productivity (read profitability) of farming and as a result be harmful to the public. He’s said he’ll get the RMA changed – continuing a string of abuses on environmental protection from National’s senior ministers of late who can’t conceive of economic growth without accompanying environmental destruction. It is a regressive view but one National, faced with a flat economy, is wholeheartedly embracing.

In recent weeks Carter has referred to a report his Department commissioned from the Crown Research Institute Landcare Research, implying that this report showed the Environment Court had significantly underestimated the impact of One Plan on farm profitability. The Environment Court had accepted evidence that estimated a rise in costs for farmers of, on average, less than 5%, rising to nearly 17% for some farms.

Landcare Research’s report looked at a wide range of policy options, none of which exactly mirrored One Plan. It was a report commissioned for the general purpose of informing local governments grappling with central government objectives for freshwater management. Its publication is timely given the damning findings on the state of our rivers reported in November by the Ministry of the Environment. A further benefit will no doubt be provided to the Land and Water Forum attempting to arrive at sensible policy on using and polluting sources of fresh water.

In their report Landcare Research researchers did not model One Plan specifically but looked at three types of policies: better management practices (whether introduced voluntarily or by regulation), ceilings on nutrient leaching combined with the ability to trade these limits between farms, and taxing nutrient discharges.

One Plan’s aim is to bring about new management practices while introducing ceilings on the nutrient leakage from farms into the catchment. So it sits roughly as a combination of the first two types of policies that Landcare Research modelled. However the policy Landcare Research modelled is so far astray from One Plan that the authors of the Landcare Research report specifically said their work could not be used to assess One Plan. “As a result of the policy assumptions presented in this report, the estimates are not directly comparable with analyses of the One Plan.”

This caveat didn’t stop the Minister concluding the possible profit losses of 22% to 43% emerging from Landcare Research’s modelling were a fair reflection of One Plan. That’s about as sloppy intellectually as you can get – it’s amazing he can be so wrong.

Landcare Research modelled a policy which reduced the flow of nutrients from farms to waterways far more dramatically than is proposed under the Environment Court version of the One Plan. Landcare Research used nitrogen leaching reduction targets of 53% compared to current levels. Horizons’ current policy goal under One Plan is to reduce nitrogen leaching by just 4% to 9% in the first ten years and 8% to 20% over 20 years. This huge difference makes any comparison between the two absolutely mad.

It is clear that nutrient leaching has continued in the Manawatu at a rapid pace since 2007. Otherwise Landcare Research’s use of 2007 benchmarks wouldn’t have led to such an extreme target for reducing pollution rates today. So it could well be that Horizons needs to be more ambitious, not less as the Minister and Fed Farmers would have it. Certainly, the Environment Court wasn’t happy to see goals watered down.

By misrepresenting the profit implications of One Plan David Carter has attempted to undermine Horizons and endorsed the self-interest of the farming lobby – odd he’s also the Minster for Local Government. More importantly this is yet another demonstration of the National cabinet’s open hostility to environmental protection.

  • nick

    Typical of NZ that a small greedy group try and wrest control of something that is everybodys inalienable right- a clean and pleasant place to live. Come down to Canterbury to see the lolly scramble that is going on and the debacle that is ECan,

  • Phil Stevens

    Is Carter softening Horizons ratepayers up for the imminent putsch? What happened to ECan could be done to us here in the Manawatu. Forewarned is forearmed.

  • Richard

    David Carter once came to my school. He asked if we gained any benefit from the new funding formula. I replied no but he insisted that we would. Both his aide and I pointed out that the final step in the algorithm involved,in our case, multiplying by zero. But this didn’t deter our David and he waded through the entire formula and without batting an eye multiplied the final number by zero. Oh he says you’re right you don’t get an increase —

  • Zenguy

    How many years of high offshore prices and low onshore returns will it take before David Carter realises that dairying (and commodity agriculture in general) it isn’t the growth industry that National hopes it will be?

    Yes, agriculture is major part of our economy, has been for decades. But with a growth rate of, at best, 2% per annum it’s more as a damper on our economic performance that a boost. That it still the dominates National’s economic policy is a triumph of stubborn narrow-mindedness over long-term reality. Shame really, for a party focussed almost exclusively on economic policy, and with the full resources of the public sector at their disposal, you’d think they’d do a beter job of basing their policy on reality.

  • Bob

    So what’s new.
    The government no matter what dress it wears, Nat or Lab. Have a habit of
    looking after business before the rest of us. How do you think we got the low wage
    constant un-employment, increased population via immigration model we now have?

    No regulation is just slightly worse than self regulation. You get away with what you can. Until someone jumps up and down.
    Kiwi’s can do anything. Wonder what happened to that?

  • William A Whitehead Qsm

    Once farmers have all water rights they want, Ecan will go back to being an elected democratic body, but only after … and we in Christchurch hope we still have pure water.

  • chaf400

    A couple of weeks ago I discussed the impact of the one plan with a dairy farmer in the region. He has been farming in the district for many years now, the last few years using biological principles.

    His view is that he one plan will have absolutely no effect on the way he currently farms.
    This just goes to show that the Minister and federated farmers are totally out of touch with the those they claim to represent.

  • Narena Olliver

    I am sick and tired of farmers bleating about the cost of cleaning up their act. I am an owner of a heritage building which has seen massive rises in insurance costs over the past year and are now faced with possibly no insurance cover at all, rendering the property valued at only land value. This is being faced by owners of buildings built before 1935 all over the country. Taxpayers are contributing heavily to cleaning up waterways so farmers just stop the bleating and appreciate there are a lot of others with far worse prospects.

    • Sean Leslie

      It’s worse than that – every time a dirty farmer is fined by a regional council, they claim it against their indemnity insurance. So not only are we paying to clean up their mess as taxpayers, we’re paying to subsidize their insurance liabilities as policy holders.

  • David Meredith

    Ministerial policies tend to be about political expediency. Only policies that are seen as positive by a majority of voters; and not strongly negative by any powerful lobby group, are seen as politically viable. Without much real, informed, and widely disseminated debate on most potential policy changes, the status quo is seen as the safe bet politically. We live in a highly dysfunctional society sleep walking towards the abyss. Only when negative consequences are painfully and blindingly obvious does positive change become possible.

  • The Mole

    Carter also appears to be in breach of the sub judice rule about Ministers shutting the heck up about matters before courts

  • Peter Carey

    Its been demonstrated that the most profitable farms are often not the most productive. As soon as you bring in large amounts of feed and increase fertiliser usage to increase production through greater cow numbers, there is likely to be an added environmental cost (unless there is a quantum improvement in farm management). If this cost is not borne by the farmer then of course this increased “productivity” is largely a mirage because of the cost of cleaning up the environment becomes a direct cost to the public and increases fiscal drag on other parts of the economy sensitive to such damage (e.g. tourism). Farmers can’t have it both ways, if they want to push the farm to higher production then it becomes beholding to them to demonstrate they have not increased the environmental consequences. Rights come with responsibilities.

  • Grant Lyon

    Once again I have to write this, many of the Biological systems of farming, are higher in profit for the farmer, also sustainable and clean and green. All the research has been done. It’s now a proven fact. The problem is with the inability for those in control to listen and learn. And or they have an ulterior motive. A scientist that has a family and mortgage top pay for, a Banker that profits from keeping farmers in debt. A media outlet that sells by only promoting doom and gloom. A Politician that is just plain ignorant and or corrupt. Bloggers with blinkers on and fingers in ears. The answer? Education for the farmer.

  • John Hutcheson

    After so many nincompoops it’s good to see someone doing or exampling the right thing.

  • Paul Scott

    we are getting rid of the resource management Act soon.

    • Phil Stevens

      I’ll listen to your arguments, Paul, but you need to drink a tall glass of water direct from the Manawatu River first. You can dip that glass in upstream from the PN sewage treatment outfall if you’d rather…I’m a sporting bloke.

  • Owen

    Make all the marginal farms uneconomic to farm, watch the gorse grow and see the huge increase in nitrogen leaching from that land.

    How is that a good thing for the rivers ?
    Be careful of what you wish for.

  • disqus_rnSdyP8DzV

    I can’t find the report on Landcare website. Can anyone provide the url?

  • Paul Scott

    look what we have to know Gareth, please say so you stupid or not, I think so, economics 101, Councils Regional dead Gareth,, knock knock Gareth,Regional Councils are going. The RMA is going away knock knock Gareth, join green party here Gareth, be absurd